Tick all the boxes
District Judge Marshall Phillips explains how to avoid common problems with correspondence and applications to the court
As a district judge, a significant amount of my time is spent dealing with what we call ‘boxwork’, namely dealing with cases on paper, without a hearing.
This includes dealing with correspondence, allocation to track and the giving of directions in small-claim and fast-track cases, the listing of disposal hearings where liability is admitted, dealing with application notices (adding the standard CPR 23.10 paragraph so that a party not served with the application can apply to set it aside or vary it), making unless orders, approving consent orders, and so on.
In doing so, the court often has to request further information or refuse a consent order, which is time consuming for both the court and the solicitor, and increases delay and cost. With this in mind, I thought it might be helpful if I made the following suggestions, dealing with instances which regularly arise. While adoption of these suggestions may not cure the problem, it should lead to a reduction in the number of queries raised by the court.
- Whenever writing to the court, always quote the correct case number in the heading of your letter. It is the most important piece of information for the staff, and you would be surprised how often either no case number is given or the incorrect case number is quoted.
If the letter relates to a hearing, give the date of the hearing (in bold text) in the heading of your letter, and if the hearing is taking place in the near future, indicate this by saying: ‘Urgent: Hearing on (insert date) at (insert time).’
Don’t assume that by sending the letter by post and email (or fax) that you will receive any better service. If anything, it will delay matters as each piece of correspondence will need to be logged on and placed on the file. One copy is sufficient.
Remember to sign and date application notices and any accompanying statements. It is the sworn evidence relied upon in support of the application, and the absence of a signature and date is likely to lead to the application being returned.
If asking the court to deal with an application notice without a hearing, and to make an order for costs against the other party, include a signed and dated schedule of costs in form N260.
When applying to vary an earlier order, give the court an explanation as to why this is necessary, and do so before the date for compliance (or any 28-day extension agreed between the parties) has expired. Failure to do so is likely to involve your having to make an application for relief from sanctions. Don’t simply file a signed consent order and expect the court to approve it when no such explanation has been given.
In financial remedy cases, any consent order will need to be accompanied by a fully completed statement of information. It is often helpful for this to be accompanied by a letter explaining the basis of the agreement and why it is fair, and in cases where one party is unrepresented, confirmation that such party has either taken independent legal advice or been advised to take such advice.
While on this topic, can I also stress the importance of any correspondence or applications to the court being filed in good time. Late filing of such documentation is likely to lead to the same not coming to the attention of the judge in a timely manner, and to the judge proceeding to deal with the case on the basis of the evidence that is before the court. This tends to lead to an application to set aside the order, which of course has to be dealt with either on the papers or by a hearing.
While I accept that there are times when late filing of such documentation is unavoidable, there are many other instances where, with some forward planning, the panic at the end could be avoided.
District Judge Marshall Phillips sits at Cardiff Civil and Family Justice Centre, where he is also the regional costs judge. He is president of the Association of Her Majesty’s District Judges